Twentieth Judicial Circuit, Lee
County Case# 95-911 CF-A
Sentencing Judge: The Honorable
William J. Nelson
Trial Attorney: Harold M.
Stevens – Private
Attorney, Direct Appeal: Paul C.
Helm – Assistant Public Defender
Collateral Attorney: Terri L.
Backhus & Paul Kalil – CCRC-S
Date of Offense: 03/10/95
Date of Sentence: 11/27/96
Circumstances of the Offense:
Joshua Nelson and Keith Brennan
constructed a plan to murder Tommy Owens, a peer, and steal his vehicle
in order to leave the city of Cape Coral.
With the knowledge that Owens
kept a baseball bat in his car, Nelson and Brennan lured Owens to a
remote street under false pretenses on the evening of 03/10/95. After
convincing Owens to exit his car, Nelson struck Owens with the baseball
Owens fell to the ground after a number of blows and then had his
arms and legs tied by Nelson and Brennan. Even though Owens pled for
his life and offered to forfeit his car, Nelson and Brennan conferred
and decided that, in order to avoid capture, they should kill Owens.
Brennan used a box cutter and tried to slice Owens’ throat. Owens,
however, was still conscious when the stabbing began, and he begged
Nelson to hit him with the baseball bat so as to render him unconscious
before Brennan continued the stabbing. His request was granted, and
Brennan continued the stabbing. Nelson and Brennan continued to strike
Owens with the bat a number of times before dragging his body to nearby
bushes. Owens later died.
Nelson and Brennan picked up
Tina and Misty Porth in Owens’ car and the four left the city. They
left the state and drove to New Jersey after stopping in Daytona.
Nelson and Brennan informed Tina and Misty over the course of the trip
that they had murdered Owens. Tina and Misty both testified at the
After law enforcement officers
apprehended Nelson and Brennan in New Jersey, Nelson gave both a video-
and audio-taped confession. Nelson gave his detailed account of the
murder both at the place of the bat’s discovery and at the crime scene,
in his confession. The taped video confession was played at the trial
for the jury.
A Florida Department of Law Enforcement analyst gave
testimony that a match to Owens DNA was found on Nelson’s blood stained
shoes, the box cutter, and the pair of underwear wrapped around the box
Keith Michael Brennan (DC#
Brennan and Nelson were tried
together. The date of the offense, 03/10/95, was eight days prior to
Brennan’s eighteenth birthday. On 03/20/97, he was sentenced to life for
first-degree premeditated murder and 13 years, 4 months for robbery with
a deadly weapon
04/04/95 Indicted as
Count I: First-Degree Premeditated
Count II: Robbery with a Deadly
11/07/96 Jury returned
guilty verdicts on all counts of the indictment
recommended death by a vote of 12-0
11/27/96 Sentenced as
Count I: First-Degree Premeditated Murder – Death
Count II: Robbery with a Deadly Weapon – 15 years, 9
Nelson filed a direct appeal to
the Florida Supreme Court on 12/16/96. Some of the issues raised
included: (1) the trial court erred by failing to properly determine the
admissibility of testimony by the State’s DNA expert Darren Esposito;
(2) the trial court violated Nelson’s right to confrontation by
admitting evidence of his non-testifying codefendant’s out-of-court
The Court found all of these claims either without merit or
harmless and affirmed the conviction and sentence of death on 05/27/99.
Nelson filed a petition for Writ
of Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court on 11/18/99, which was
denied on 01/18/00.
Nelson filed a 3.850 Motion to
the Circuit Court on 01/05/01, which is currently pending.
Joshua David Nelson